To lure the public back into art galleries, dealers are banding together and adopting vintage tactics like the old-fashioned gallery walk.
On Wednesday night in New York, 30 art galleries stayed open late to accommodate visitors to the inaugural Chelsea Art Walk, a new initiative spearheaded by the Art Dealers Association of America. It’s a “great example” of how galleries are “finding ways to work together to encourage the public to visit their spaces,” says Andrew Schoelkopf, the association’s president.
If you read between the lines, it’s also a great example of how New York galleries are pushing vintage approaches to art viewership to fight plummeting foot traffic—a trend that’s threatening not only galleries’ commercial viability, but also their existential purpose as a free place to exhibit art. To people.
“I’ve seen attendance diminish a lot,” says Julie Saul, who has run a gallery in Chelsea for the past 18 years. “So about six weeks ago my gallery director said to me, ‘We gotta get some people in here.’” That’s when she called up the Art Dealers Association with the idea for the gallery walk. “I don’t think this art walk is going to change anything that significantly,” she says, but special occasions do seem to drive traffic more than mere exhibitions these days. And indeed, the art walk—which also included performances and talks—drew a turnout more typical of the September rush than the dog days of summer.